Ailidh Durie, BSc Sociology and Social Policy
I’ve worked with DECIPHer for just under four months now. I initially got in contact with Dr Adam Fletcher, who was my lecturer at the time, to follow up on some of the classes he’d delivered in my third year modules. He offered me the chance to engage in the work we’d been discussing in the form of an internship; a first for me and DECIPHer!
I was working with Dr Honor Young and Catt Turney alongside Dr Adam Fletcher on two sexual health interventions for the first two and a half months of my placement. The first was the SaFE project, which was aimed at developing an intervention for Further Education (FE) students to promote safe sex and healthy relationships. We conducted focus groups with students in four FE settings in Wales, and two in Bristol, as well as focus groups with staff members, and interviews with FE managers. We discussed what the terms ‘safe sex’ and ‘healthy relationships’ meant to students, and then presented them with four intervention components that an initial literature review had identified as being effective in promoting safe sex in educational settings. We asked the students to tell us about their thoughts on the suggested intervention components, and how they would address the concepts of safe sex and healthy relationships. I was mainly involved in the data collection aspect of the SaFE project which enabled me to gain experience leading and working within focus groups of both staff and students. I enjoyed being able to get out of the office and speak to students, especially when they were enthusiastic and keen to share their opinions with us.
The second project I worked on was assessing the transferability of a resource developed at Queen’s University, Belfast, called “If I were Jack” which was aimed at Year 10 students (age 14 – 15). ‘If I were Jack’ is a set of four lesson plans which revolve around an interactive video documenting a week in the life of 16 year old Jack after he finds out his girlfriend is pregnant. We conducted focus groups with students and staff, and interviews with head teachers in three schools across Wales. I was given more responsibility with this project: helping recruit schools to participate through the School Health Research Network (SHRN); working to create interview schedules for the student, staff and head teacher focus groups; and conducting interviews and focus groups across the schools. Using the collected data, we compiled a report to send back to Queen’s University which discussed how ‘If I were Jack’ could be feasibly used in Welsh Schools. At first, the responsibility of coordinating and conducting data collection was a bit daunting but I was well supported by my mentors, and appreciated the trust that had been placed in me. Being able to work so closely with a project was a really rewarding experience and it allowed me to develop confidence in my abilities.
During the data collection for ‘If I were Jack’ and ‘SaFE’, I also worked with Dr Adam Fletcher on his contribution to a blog called ‘The Cost of Living’. We wrote a blog post discussing the legalisation of marijuana in four states in the US, and the potential implications it could have on public health. I really enjoyed the chance to work on the blog, it was completely different to the other projects I was working on and allowed me to gain experience in something I’d not done before.
During the last week of my internship I was given a chance to work with DECIPHer PhD student and Research Fellow, Ruth Turley on a systematic review of literature surrounding the barriers and facilitators schools encounter when using evidence in policy-making. I had read about systematic reviews in research I’d carried out for other projects, so getting the opportunity to be part of one was really interesting and I learned a lot.
I am now working as a casual researcher for DECIPHer; continuing my work on SaFE, and starting work on a smoking reduction trial called Filter. I’ve really enjoyed my work with DECIPHer, I’ve learned so much from working with the different researchers and gained so many new research skills from it. The staff at DECIPHer were also so welcoming, I felt like part of the team from the very beginning and they were always there to help me, whether it was with the photocopying machine or with a theory I’d recently encountered! I’m hoping to do a Master’s degree next year and the experiences I’ve got from this internship have helped me immeasurably in choosing the course that suits me most, and will help me in the future.